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Ford Falcon set to get new Territory's electric steering

Auto park: A diagram shows how the automatic parallel parking system of the US Ford Escape reverse-parks the SUV.

New electric-assist steering system paves way for auto parking for local Fords

10 Mar 2011

A NEW electric power-assist steering system (EPAS) to be introduced on the latest Ford Territory from May will also be extended to the facelifted Falcon due later this year, opening the door for Ford Australia to also become the first local car-maker to adopt one-touch automatic parallel parking.

GoAuto understands that Falcon will follow Territory by getting the Nexteer Automotive electric steering package as part of a global roll-out of the fuel-saving technology by the Blue Oval, which has a goal of 90 per cent EPAS fitment across its range by 2012.

Falcon is also expected to get the new Territory’s driver’s knee airbag, improved noise suppression measures and latest Bosch 9.0 stability control system that includes an anti-roll-over function.

The Ford electric steering system confirmed for Territory - and also fitted to the Ford Mustang in the US - can be upgraded into a fully fledged automatic parallel parking system, which Ford calls Active Park Assist (APS), by adding the necessary software, sensors and console button.

In the US, Ford vehicles such as the Escape, Flex, Mercury Mariner, Lincoln MKS and Lincoln MKT already have the parking system, which is activated by a press of the button on the centre console.

27 center imageFrom top: Ford Territory TDCi, FG Ford Falcon, a diagram of the Territory's steering and suspension.

Guided by ultrasonic sensors that can also double as a blind-spot warning system, APS then takes over, steering the car into the parking space without the driver touching the steering wheel.

The driver still needs to operate the accelerator, brakes and transmission shift, but the steering is automatic. If necessary, the driver can take over the steering by grabbing the wheel.

Several prestige cars already on the Australian market - including some from Lexus, BMW, Volvo and Volkswagen - already have the system, but Ford will be the first to introduce it into local family cars.

Some systems from luxury importers are already more sophisticated, with BMW’s latest 5 Series Touring even capable of picking out a parking spot while on the move.

Ford’s European imports, including the upcoming 2011 Focus due in Australian showrooms in the third quarter of this year, are also in line for EPAS and, potentially, APS.

Ford this week officially announced that the new Territory, which is set to go into production at the Broadmeadows plant in late March, will get EPAS, but a Ford spokesman told GoAuto that he knew of no plans to introduce the added parking system in SZ Territory. However, he would not rule out such a development in the longer term on local Fords.

When it comes, APS is likely to be introduced on high-end models such as the Territory Titanium, which replaces the Ghia as the luxury flagship of the Territory range. Currently, the petrol-powered Territory Ghia is priced from $52,890 in two-wheel-drive form and $66,820 in AWD form.

The introduction of the parking system and other benefits of EPAS, such as ‘pull-drift compensation’ and variable speed assistance, will give Ford much-needed bragging rights over rivals GM Holden and Toyota.

The Holden Commodore and Toyota Camry both still feature conventional hydraulic-mechanical steering systems with power assistance provided by an engine-driven pump.

One of the major reasons Ford has switched to EPAS is to remove the mechanical drag of the pump, a move that it says will improve Territory fuel consumption by 2.5 per cent – another plus for the Ford models over rivals.

This system will especially help the forthcoming four-cylinder EcoBoost Falcon, not only aiding fuel efficiency but performance by giving the relatively small 2.0-litre engine one less task to perform.

However, Ford will need to overcome a certain stigma attached to such electric power-steering systems, as early efforts have been far from impressive compared with the best hydro-mechanical systems that so far have delivered greater ‘feel’.

GoAuto recently drove an American version of the Focus equipped with both EPAS and APS, but was underwhelmed by the steering system that lacks response off-centre and is deficient in the feel and feedback - let alone the tactility and precision - of its forebears.

Ford Asia-Pacific vehicle dynamics manager Alex de Vlugt said at Wednesday’s briefing that the negatives of such systems had only been eliminated in the past three or four years.

He said Ford’s system met the Territory design goals of ‘fun to drive’ and ‘great driver feedback’, which also delivering lighter low-speed efforts and speed-dependent assistance control to match the steering to the driving situation.

Asked if the EPAS system would also appear on the facelifted Falcon due later this year, he said: “Watch this space.”

The Ford EPAS system is a sealed unit on the steering rack, not a column-mounted unit like some others.

An electric motor controlled by an electronic module drives the steering gears to turn the wheels. It is this motor that makes the parking function possible, turning the steering under the control of the ECU which acts on information from external sensors.

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